Democratic candidates talk voting rights at Helena town hall meeting

by George Jared ([email protected]) 379 views 

Two Democrats seeking state and national offices told attendees at a town hall Monday night (July 30) in Helena that voters’ rights are under siege. Chintan Desai, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, in Arkansas’ 1st Congressional district, ended his 30-day, 30 county tour of the district in his hometown with the town hall.

The theme for the meeting was voting rights. Susan Inman, a Democrat who is seeking the Secretary of State’s office, told the crowd she thinks voters are being disenfranchised by a reduction in polling places.

“Our voting rights are under attack,” she said.

Desai rallied the pro-Democratic crowd by taking several shots at Crawford and President Donald Trump. He said Crawford rarely travels to the southern counties in his district, including Phillips County where the town hall was held. When asked how much running against the president will be part of his strategy to defeat Crawford, he said not a lot.

“I don’t think we will be talking about the president a lot,” he said.

Desai is a first-generation citizen of Indian immigrant parents. Desai, the KIPP Delta Schools regional project manager, has lived in Helena the past seven years. He moved there to teach fifth-grade social studies in 2010.

The Democrat faces a daunting task defeating his incumbent opponent who is seeking a fifth term in office. Crawford hasn’t faced a serious challenge since he became the first Republican elected in the district since the end of Reconstruction. The district is now dominated by the GOP and Desai said he hasn’t received much funding from the National Democratic Party, but has received logistical help. He admitted Crawford will likely raise more money than him and acknowledged many political insiders expect Crawford to retain his seat.

Real Clear Politics doesn’t list the race as competitive, but his campaign has mobilized on social media, and he thinks his message, which includes plans to raise the starting wage for a teacher to $50,000 will resonate with voters in the district.

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin is term limited. Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston is Inman’s Republican opponent. Inman said she is more qualified for the position and Thurston wants to “skip seats.”

Inman has plans of her own if she is elected. She previously served as director of the Elections Division of the office and also served as Pulaski County Election director. Inman said the Secretary of State is an administrative job, and it has nothing to do with national politics or President Trump. If she is elected, she said she hopes to expand the ability for voters to cast ballots. During the 2016 election, more than 900,000 eligible state residents didn’t vote.

One way to help solve the problem would be to allow mail-in ballots, she said. In states like Oregon that use a similar system, voter participation rates have risen up to 70% of the electorate casting ballots, she said. A vote by mail system could also save the state millions of dollars, she added.

Desai and Inman agreed the efforts to limit the number of polling places, the number of days early votes can be cast, and other measures to stop voters are hurting the democracy, she said.